As I write my penultimate column, I reflect on the most critical issues confronting our region’s future progress and economic vitality. There is little doubt that the quality of public education is number one.
It is essential that we design a system where all students have the requisite skills to thrive as a participant in a re-emerging middle class. This does not necessarily mean four-year bachelor’s degrees for all.
In all of my previous 298 columns, the one that elicited the most comments dealt with SJ 2020 and the racial achievement gap. I advocated for a full-court press to eliminate the racial achievement gap in 10 years. The issue became the rallying point for many Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) initiatives supported by the Board of Education, including the December 2011 approval of 20 countywide Rocketship charter schools.
In the post I wrote: “The initiatives must be audacious and as John Porter, Superintendent of Franklin-McKinley SD (recently retired) said, we must place children first, as though they are national treasures—or in this case City of San Jose treasures. Porter implied that those countries that have improved their educational system in the last few decades did so only when the lens through which children were viewed changed.”
At the SCCOE board meeting last week, a slide on Item 10D showed that in 2013-14 the county 4-year Cohort-Graduation rate for Whites and Asians was 93.15 percent; for Hispanics and African Americans it was 73.75 percent. This data should be alarming to all community, corporate and political leaders. San Jose has made a small dent in the racial achievement gap since 2009, but we need to do much more and with alacrity and wisdom.
Another dilemma that needs attention is the precipitous decline of college graduates who choose teaching as a profession. We are approaching a real quality teacher supply shortage. There are 66 percent fewer college graduates entering post-graduate teacher credentialing programs in the decade 2002-2012.
I have argued in these digital pages to improve working conditions in schools for teachers: i.e. longer school years so the pay is increased by the number of days a teacher works. If we extend the work year from 180 to 200 days, pay increases by 11 percent. Salaries that significantly increase should also bring new tenure requirements, such as when a seven-year teacher evaluation period is completed. This would be akin to a partner in a law firm being picked by his or her colleagues, leading to a salary increase.
Teachers who work at least seven years in public education and have superior common core results should also have their students loans paid off. We should also bring back sabbatical leaves that focus on action research for classroom teachers.
We also need to focus on principal leadership, including instructional results and teacher assessment, and not just give the mission lip service. Superintendents and cabinet leaders must give principals multiple-year contracts commensurate with the quality of their evaluations—based on student data.
One of the most important foundational blocks for a region to thrive is to invest in early childhood education programs for 3 and 4 year olds. Developmental brain research makes it clear that children engaged in the early years before kindergarten gain the requisite skills for school success. The research strongly indicates that this investment in early learning will return 400-700 percent more in societal improvements.
Lastly, as a region we must put down the sword and find ways to use limited public funds to meet the objectives of a thriving region. Questions that remain for other community leaders to write about in the upcoming years:
- Can we do better than 31 districts serving the county’s 265,000 students?
- How do we get the best teachers in the highest student need districts?
- Will traditional public and publicly funded charter schools work cooperatively on behalf of student results?
- Do we have the courage today to do what is needed before it is too late?
- Is it possible to create pathways for students to learn one world language and coding as a third language?
Even though I have at times received a thrashing from commenters for my education advocacy, I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to write evocatively and passionately about a subject I have immersed myself in these last 40 years.